Saturday, October 01, 2011

Wet Camping Not for the Wimpy

Our scouting district held a Camporee two weekends ago for Boy Scout units. We now have about 70 such units in our district.

I did not expect a huge turnout to the event. We have traditionally gotten much lower turnouts at fall Camporee events than at winter Klondike events. I suspect that there are many reasons for this. The school year has just begun and families are busy.

But another reason that I expected a lower turnout was that the new district camping chairman had to go out of town for an extended period for his job. While the camping chairman had done quite a bit of groundwork in setting up the event, his absence in the critical few weeks prior to the event left the program chairman scrambling.

Throughout the Friday of the campout the skies were overcast. The forecast called for rain. But the temperature was relatively mild. We have no problem getting troops to come out to camp in the snow, but rain is another story. The threat of a little rain seems to deplete turnout by as much as half. Heavy rain will cut that number in half again.

I tell people around here all of the time that if they refuse to camp in rainy conditions, their boys will never learn how to successfully deal with outdoor events in wet weather. I also tell them that if they lived in the Northwest and refused to camp in the rain, they would never go camping at all.

It's not the boys that cancel campouts in the face of precipitation; it's the adults. I have to admit that it's a lot of work to dry out wet tents and gear. But I also can't help but wonder if adult scouters have always been this wimpy. I seem to remember camping in wet weather quite a bit when I was a youth.

When we held flag ceremony at sundown, we had 17 Scout troops in attendance. 17 out of 70 is rather pathetic. We had somewhere around 150 attendees (youth and adults).

While there had been a bit of misty rain earlier in the evening, the weather turned off quite beautiful for our campfire program. It still felt quite nice when we bedded down for the night. But along about midnight it started to rain in earnest. The first troop that couldn't hack it pulled out around 1 am. Over the next couple of hours, a few more pulled up stakes and headed home.

Around 5 am we experienced a spectacularly bright and noisy thunderstorm. More troops left then, citing their hazardous weather training. Many of us that have been through (and taught) the same training judged it sufficiently safe to remain.

By the time we held flag ceremony at 8 am, only seven troops remained. Scout games were planned for 9 am. By that time, only one troop remained. True, it rained off and on and all the camping gear was wet. It is also true that many boys were quite wet by then. But the one troop that stayed had a great time anyway. After all, they reasoned that they would soon be home and able to get dry. Why not have fun?

Listening to conversations as troops packed up and headed home, I think that most of the boys would have stayed if only the adults had let them. I wonder what the boys learned from this.

Our Order of the Arrow chapter members were the last to leave after cleaning up. The Camporee had been damp and poorly attended. But dampness need not ruin a campout if campers are properly prepared. Those that learn lessons from getting wet during an outdoor event can learn to have fun in wet weather anyway.

Youth safety is very important and should not be compromised. But teaching Scouts to be wimps won't instill the kind of values in them that the Boy Scouts of America seeks to uphold.

1 comment:

Tom said...

One of my best memories of backpacking as a teenage scout was on a trip where it rained solidly for the first two days. Some scouts in the group (not me!) unfortunately pitched their tent (in the rain) in a depression under a tree, and woke to standing water in the bottom of their tent. (As my wife's Wood Badge packing list notes, "There's no bad weather, only poorly prepared campers.")

As I recall, the leaders left the decision to cancel the week-long trip up to us, the scouts. We chose to do so ... the weather cleared up nicely on the hike out (6+ mi), and we reconsidered. We spent the rest of the week in beautiful weather new to a gorgeous stream.

As I look back, I think one of the biggest benefits of scouting was that it gave me a chance to do things that were difficult. It may sound trite, but challenge builds character.

If scouts (boy leaders) made the decision to leave, it should not have been at the encouragement of their adults. If adults chose to leave without involving scouts in the decision, shame on them.

If scouts made the decision on their own, ... who are we to say they're wrong? Emphasize how much fun those who stayed had. Suggest ways they might prepare better. Maybe they'll choose differently next time.